Michael Ignatieff is taking a lot of heat from citizens, party members (and probably some members of the Liberal caucus) over his response to the idea, floated by PMO director of communications Dmitri Soudas, of a training mission in Afghanistan after Canada's combat role ends in 2011.
A review of some widely available facts may be helpful:
- In June 2010, the Liberal Party announced a Global Networks Strategy. One part of that strategy reads: "[A future Liberal government will] pursue a post-combat role in Afghanistan that is focused on the training of police and military personnel in a staff college setting in Kabul, and civilian governance capacity-building"
- In July 2010, Bob Rae released a statement upon the close of a fairly major conference in Kabul, in which he says: "In contrast to Conservative inaction, the Liberal Party has made it clear that we support a continuing non-combat commitment by Canada as part of the broad UN effort to sustain a stable, effective government in Afghanistan. This commitment can include a role in training the Afghan army and police, as well as support for other institutions of government, including health care, education and the justice system."
- In August, in the Toronto Star, Bob Rae wrote about Afghanistan. He noted that "Canada needs to debate and discuss the answers to these questions. The Liberal party helped draft the 2008 parliamentary resolution that permitted our troops to stay in Kandahar in a combat role, with an ever increasing role for the Afghan police and army and a stronger civilian and development presence. President Barack Obama’s review led to similar conclusions: There would be no simple, military victory; all efforts should focus on training the Afghan army and police and building the infrastructure of the country. Pakistan needed to become a reliable and steady ally in the change."
Now, I do find it interesting that Bob Rae is the lead on this issue, rather than, say, Dominic LeBlanc, who is the national defence critic. However, LeBlanc was appointed to that post in September 2010, after the Global Networks Strategy was announced. Presumably, he is on the same page as Rae and Ignatieff.
Michael Ignatieff's response to the training mission floated by the Conservatives was:
- "This is a conversation that has to be had with Canadians. How many trainers? For how long? Who else is training? What are your training targets? What kind of mission is this? We have 10 years there, if there is a mission after 2011 the government owes Canadian an explanation."
- "This government is (less than) two weeks away from Lisbon, the NATO meeting, (and) they are scrambling because they are under pressure from their allies," he told reporters, adding the first his party heard of it was Friday..."This is amateur hour."
The Liberal Party has been advocating this idea for months. It is known party policy. Ignatieff's response points out 1) the rushed, ill-considered way the Conservatives are raising the idea; and 2) that he believes it is incumbent on the government to provide more details before he knows if this is a good or bad idea.
As an aside, Jack Layton, in a major speech on Afghanistan in 2007, said: "Violent and petty crimes are also on the rise. A trained police force would help Afghans immensely, but the police training effort has been slow and inadequate. As of this month Canada has sent a grand total of 10 RCMP officers to Afghanistan. They have trained approximately 1500 police officers. Yet in Iraq, where Canada is not participating in the war, we have trained 34,700 police officers." Of course, Layton has been consistently opposed to the combat mission, but he seems here to be more disposed to a training mission (at least for police).